I stand before you today with a mixture of trepidation and daring. Like often, I think we can consider touchy and complex issues with broad-minded thinking and good-hearted caring. I’ve no particular authority or expertise other than tending to think for myself and speak out loud in a setting of the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” So I dare, though I am uneasy; I trust we can handle it together. The topic is easy for some, unsettling for others.
Homosexuality is a subset of sex in the human community, and sex is an attractive but volatile topic. Two things stand out about human sex in general. Humans are far sexier than the other animals. We’re not tied to a monthly or yearly schedule and we’re more into kink than the animals. So, we’re more interested and able. But second, we’re also the only animal prone to hide in the bushes. Arousal and shame, eagerness and unease, are both in typical human sex. Homosexuality seems a constant minority preference and option in humans, whether facilitated or repressed according to the culture. Some cultures stone their gays, while others create stone sculptures to honor them. Some cultures honor and even require same-sex sex, some accept it but don’t talk about it, some shame it and repress it violently. This unease and repression seems to pop up regularly; it is as tenacious as the desire for it.
I speculate here that homosexuality may contribute survival value to whole communities. If it is based in genetics, it would seem to select itself out. After all, the sex of same-sex couples doesn’t lead to babies, yet a small percentage of babies are born gay. Gays have the benefit of sex without the danger of pregnancy. Whole communities survive better when they don’t overpopulate and exhaust their resources, while also keeping affection and community cohesion viable. Oxytocin follows on domamine, leading to closeness and connection. Sexy connected communities are more resilient. More sex, less babies, more community connection – these could promote the survival of some communities over those who don’t include gays. If we were to let gays be together worldwide, maybe overpopulation would slow.
We’re provincial in our view of cultures and history, but since Freud, Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson, there has been a steady coming out of everyone about sex. Queer pride is just another aspect of human pride, a humanistic faith that people can be wholly themselves in a healthy inclusive community that values honesty, authenticity, and freedom. I’m glad gay people can find and enjoy each other, whether polyamorously, or as committed couples. When people find and support each other and are accepted and affirmed for that in our communities, all benefit – the couple and those around them. As this becomes more common it is seen as just another variation in a wide and diverse view of normal.
I see gay culture and my denomination as doing a noble work in welcoming, affirming, and incorporating gays into our religious communities and society in general. However, I see this as being done in a less than honorable way in some of the slogans and assumptions used in doing so. I feel shunned for having voiced unpopular objections to the assumed tide of opinion. I may be on the outs with my colleagues and denomination over a few aspects of my own thinking about gay issues; it’s hard to say when no one says so.
Before I share my objections and differences let me admit how grateful I am to my denomination and to gays for educating me on the extent of their alienation from “normal” human community and the prevalence of what was recently hidden and repressed. I was amazed, walking in the Gay Pride Parade in Ashland, at how many gay couples there were and how many town people were there to cheer them on. That’s heartening. It makes for a good and friendly town. Our little churches and towns are part of a larger community undergoing change. We want that change to be inclusive, honorable and beneficial.
Because in UU churches and in Ashland we live with this emerging public presence, we’ve had time to adjust our thinking, relax our feeling, form friendships, and move along with what to others may seem foreign and frightening. Those from other churches and towns don’t have the benefit of the openness, inclusion, and ordinariness of gays being a fun and valued part of the human community. To them, it is forbidden and unspeakable, to be shunned and shamed. It’s harder to humanize what has been demonized – on any side. Authenticity, comfort and community are less likely when people don’t know and value each other. Knowing and valuing each other is what we want for us and the larger world.
Exuberant out gays are a delight to behold. Our hearts are warmed by seeing good people emerge from the shadows into celebratory community. Everything seems a bit brighter and more fun, more heartfull and humane. Good job, gays and those helping them! I’m somewhat more familiar and comfortable with gays. I still have a gay male friend from back in seminary forty years ago. I have lesbians in my neighborhood. I live in a gay-friendly town. I’m used to gays on the streets and in dances and at parties. I’ve learned to relax more from an earlier unfamiliarity, just as we in many UU settings have.
Let’s just be careful to not bring one set of people out of the shadows, only to, even if inadvertently, create shadows for others with our brightness. Not everyone has the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences; we should be careful to not assume some superior stance, judging others or dissuading their sincere and thoughtful participation. We want to grow in integrity and numbers, not trade one set of values or people for another. Some come dancing in parades on Main Street; others might shy off into back streets.
I wince at what I perceive as unfair argumentation from gay culture in general and the UUA in particular – framing the issues in such a way as to pre-decide them and exclude those who think differently. I see circular argumentation coupled to accusations for those who then don’t agree. This less than honorable argumentation could have lasting negative social and political results. This applies to how we feel about the subject in general and especially to the unsettled opinions as to the definition of marriage.
We’re for human rights and we’re “standing on the side of love.” These are laudable values. We love gays and don’t want them scorned or hiding. And we honor the love that gay couples hold. But are those who value traditional marriage against human rights and love? Are those who haven’t come to our stance on this or who differ against human rights and love? Are all those who value traditional marriage – bigots? They’re not. Additionally, people can further be called homophobic, a vague accusation sloppily applied, including all those merely uneasy with the topic to those violently opposed. If there are questions, issues, unease, even judgment, are these unwelcome in a welcoming community?
I raised questions and unease among colleagues twenty years ago only to be shunned. I noted the statistical correlation between AIDS and gay and bi-sexual men and suggested a mechanism and logic for this fact. It wasn’t anti-gay, for I also noted that of all populations, lesbians were the least likely to get it. I had received numerous studies from the CDC in Atlanta showing that way over 95% of the transmission socially was due to two behaviors: sharing needles and male gay sex. Meanwhile, the public relations campaigns ignored this and warned of sex by anyone in any way as equally dangerous. I found this needlessly puritan and misleading. I wasn’t accusatory, but I was regarded as if I meant it that way.
I also refused to be the last minister to agree to boycott any UU congregation accused of rejecting a gay ministerial candidate. I did this because congregations should decide for themselves what sorts of ministers and programs they wish to promote in their church; they’re not there to implement UUA-generated agendas. Congregations could be subject to power plays on the part of those with agendas, claiming any rejection of a gay candidate was because he or she was gay, not because it wasn’t a good match. I don’t trust the UUA to truly respect the congregation’s polity and programs and I didn’t think rounding up all the ministers to pressure such congregations was fair or wise. So they didn’t get the unanimous vote they wanted.
The district newspaper printed a front page “dialog” on the issues between another minister and me, but in fact, we never dialoged on it. I wrote my thoughts, some of which were woven with her separate version into a story as if we were conversing. We weren’t. There wasn’t respectful argumentation between colleagues with sincere reasons for their stances; there was distant judgment and then nothing. Soon thereafter at a district meeting, I videotaped a prominent gay minister from California speculate vaguely on whether some stances of some ministers are so egregious he wondered if they should be allowed to be in the UUA. Did he mean me?
(Being a Perceiver rather than a Judger, I tend to see many facets to arguments and I resist simple and firm black and white distinctions. Black and white leads to camps and contention. I assume there is lots of room within issues for various aspects of argumentation and that by engaging such objections or exceptions the whole topic is improved. Exceptions in group stances are especially important to raise and process lest they become factions of intractable arguments. While this applies to all sorts of thinking (including criticizing my own) it especially rankles some if I question things regarding gays. I’m afraid I’m being perceived as being against human rights and love because I can see the validity of the people and their values when they defend traditional marriage as being between a man and a woman. I think that is a valid facet of the argument.)
Lately, marriage seems based more in whim and romance than in life-long social and legal duty. Marriage used to be what you had to do when you got a girl pregnant or if you wanted to. There are many forms of family in the human community, but mostly what we call the traditional marriage – uniting a man and a woman (and to some extent their families) with expectations of monogamy (especially for the woman, but also for the man) towards assuring the husband that he will be the father of his own offspring, and surrounding that vulnerability and attempted assurance with property sharing, lasting mutual duties, community sanction, legal protections, and more – has long-been the understanding that many still find important. Using the husband’s last name is an attempt to assure what is unsure, to identify him as the father, for at birth we always know who the mother really is but not necessarily who the father really is. His being accessible and responsible to his own children is a meeting of biological fact and social norm. I see this as crucial to understanding traditional marriage, and I have written more extensively on it elsewhere. (See “Marriage, Gay Marriage and the Human Family” and “Focus on the Family” at www.earthlyreligion.org)
Suddenly, the biological and social reasons for the traditional definition of marriage are ignored and changed to “anything two people want.” We’re asking people to come from a ‘don’t know, haven’t met, only heard, haven’t thought’ place all the way to our experienced and advanced one, especially regarding a radically new form of “marriage.” Once defined so widely and differently, those who cleave to the traditional definition are then said to be against human rights and love.
There is the subtly snobbish stance we can take that if questions or unease arise it must be because they haven’t advanced as much as we have, tinged with the possible assumption that homophobia is the real reason. How likely is it that people will honestly speak their sincere questions or express their hesitation if they’re to be met with such judgments? How many have quietly exited our congregations for fear of ridicule and shunning? If so, how successful is it to trade one group in our congregations for another? Wouldn’t both be better?
In the black/white form of “thinking” in our media, those defending traditional marriage are not honored for their values or stance, or asked as to why they hold them; they’re mocked. Defending traditional marriage doesn’t make one a bigot. I like Dan Savage, but when he claims it does make them a bigot, he’s wrong. He doesn’t know why someone defends marriage. They might be totally for traditional marriage and totally for some analogous form specifically designed to satisfy what gays desire and deserve. How does accusing them of bigotry serve inclusive argumentation and community?
I object to this inaccurate, disrespectful, counterproductive assumption. It is an unwarranted, presumptuous, and unkind leap. We just don’t know if those defending marriage are against gay couples or not. Many states were opting to create “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” for same-sex couples that would have tended to their complaints about sharing property, hospital visitations, insurance coverage, community standing, etc. Those are unpoetic titles, and I can see why some gays considered them “second class” options. But by insisting on a single word for all forms, gays expected all others to change the meaning of marriage to a more romantic and social basis untied to any biological reasons. We can do that. Indeed, the Supreme Court has declared it so. But to also assume that valuing a traditional definition of marriage means being against gays is probably frequently inaccurate and therefore insulting and alienating.
I can easily see how such insult and alienation would only shove such people (who value the traditional marriage but are willing to grant gay couples their own form of it) into the conservative community with a mindset that sees society’s liberal ways as attacking and undermining our traditions, leading them to vote not only for conservative social morality but all the economic harm that usually comes with it. Some see the public stance of Ted Olsen, the lawyer who brought us George W. Bush in his first election, as laudable for his backing gay marriage. I worry he serves as a Trojan Horse, riling conservatives into an ongoing simmering resentment that then votes for reactionaries. Just what we need now – another Scalia or Thomas on the Supreme Court.
Beyond political fears, I also worry that assuming those who value the traditional marriage as not loving gays could become a self-fulfilling narrative. Inaccurately insulted and therefore alienated, straights unfamiliar with gay community might resent the trickery of saying gay marriage is the “same thing” as traditional and those who think otherwise are not for love and human rights. The marriage types may be “equal” but they’re not “the same thing.”
Better might be a more poetic form of marriage for gays, call it Gay Marriage or Same-sex Marriage, being a respected comparable option that grants social sanction and legal status to gay couples that honors them without ignoring the reasons for and the honor of traditional marriage. When both sides feel honored and protected, strangers can meet, acquaintances can become friendships, gay couples can be more commonplace, and the equality of marriage types can be more accepted. When no one is demonized we can all be humanized. Authenticity, comfort and community can be our mutual realm. Over time, what was consigned to shadowy closets could emerge into whole community. This isn’t trading one group for another. It isn’t saying gays have worth and dignity but those who have hesitations or questions don’t; it is saying all people have inherent worth and dignity, that all are to be included in loving community.
I don’t think my objection is sufficient to derail the gay marriage movement. My argument is weak in that there are many kinds of marriage that don’t fit the biological form I note – childless marriage, elder marriage, and temporary marriage. Should the definition of marriage be narrow or wide? Are we twoist for limiting it to two people? I’m not arguing for a final form; I’m critiquing what I perceive as an unfair and needlessly alienating form of argumentation. I’m not sure if some analogous form would be better. I share the gladness gay couples have to get the public recognition and legal status they desire and deserve. I worry, though, if the topic isn’t settled, insults and alienation could last, and people could fail to meet. How much better it would be for those unfamiliar and uneasy with homosexuality were as honored and welcome as gays lately are. Some religions shame and shun gays. Some celebrate gays while sidelining those who have hesitations or questions about homosexuality. The whole human community includes both. No one in the closet, no one out the door.
Thank you for letting me voice my un-PC, uneasy comments. I said earlier, “Authenticity, comfort and community are less likely when people don’t know and value each other. Knowing and valuing each other is what we want for us and the larger world.” May our way be one of truly knowing and valuing each other, all of us, together, like the human community is whether known or not. May we achieve and model authenticity, comfort, and community. Hello gays. Hello straights. May we know and value each other in mutual celebration, comfort and community.
Rev. Brad Carrier
Largely as presented to the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
© November 17, 2013